With the exception of certain murder cases, almost every criminal defendant is entitled to having a “reasonable” bail set. So what is “reasonable”? What can an attorney do to try to lower the bail amount? How does bail work exactly?
Bail is a “surety” designed to guarantee a defendant will return to court and face the charges against them. There are two main ways to post bail. First, you can post a “cash bail” equal to the entire amount of the bail set. After the case is completed and if the bail is exonerated (lifted), the entire amount will be returned. As bail can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, most people go through a bail bond company to post the bail. The bail company charges a premium (usually 8 to 10 percent of the bail amount) and posts the entire amount with the court. The difference with using a bail company is that at the end of the case if bail is exonerated, you will not get back the money you paid to the bail company. They keep that as their fee for posting bail on your behalf – almost like paying an insurance premium.
So how is the bail amount determined? In most counties, there is an established “bail schedule.” Based on the crime you are booked for, the bail is set in that amount until reviewed by a judge. If charges are filed, the judge will then set bail officially in court. This stage of the criminal proceedings is crucial. (See this post for other information) The judge has the option to set the bail at the schedule amount, but can set it higher or lower, depending on several factors. At your arraignment, your lawyer can try to get either a lower bail set or even a release on your own recognizance (an “O.R. release). If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges or has been recently arrested, contact a criminal attorney immediately for a review and help during this critical time.